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"I Don't Wanna Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" / "Four Wave Intersection" / "Dope & Faith"

There may have been no new Family Guy episode this week, but there was no lack of that show's particular style of humor. In fact, with the exception of King Of The Hill, these two hours very well could have been dubbed The Sunday Night Zany Joke Delivery Funopalooza.

One of the side effects of Family Guy's ascent to power seems to be a knee-jerk reaction on the part of The Simpsons writers to incorporate some of that wacky pop-culture juju into the show's old formula. I'm not saying that The Simpsons didn't have timely references or occasional moments of absurdity before, but there's been a noticeable shift toward more fractured and tangential humor over the past couple of seasons, and I, being a Family Guy-hating hipster, of course blame MacFarlane.

Tonight's episode had a solid enough storyline, with Steve Buscemi guesting as a bank robber with mommy issues who stalks Marge after she breaks her promise to visit him in prison. That seems like a fairly thick plot, but really, not all that much happened. Much more time seemed to be spent on the various funnies spilling out of the mouths of other Springfieldians who happened to be adjacent to the action. Sure, some of those asides were funny (Chief Wiggum referring to a bank robbery as a "shooty stealy"), but some smacked of lazy joke-mongering (Jimbo, Kirney, and Dolph perusing the oh-so-silly ads in the school paper). It's not so much the content as the pacing that reminds me of Family Guy--that tendency to draw out a joke just a little longer than seems natural. It's not always a bad thing, but it does feel at times like the old Simpsons humor has been somewhat adulterated.

And before we move on, a moment of silence for Gil Gunderson. It seems that Ol' Gil has shuffled off this mortal coil to join Dr. Nick Riviera, Maude Flanders, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Dr. Marvin Monroe, Frank Grimes, Vegas Wife, and a few others I'm surely forgetting. I have to say, I'm a little surprised at the ease with which the Simpsons writers seem to be doling out death blows these days. Death used to be a big deal in The Simpsons, and was often treated with reverence--Maude Flanders and Bleeding Gums Murphy are two particularly resonant examples--but Gil, along with Dr. Nick in this summer's movie, were done in with so little fanfare it makes you wonder if maybe FOX is trying to economize by slimming down the 300 or so supporting characters.

Unlike The Simpsons, which seems to be going through a drawn-out transitional period that results in a sometimes-muddled comedic tone, American Dad has always been reminiscent of Family Guy, for obvious reasons. But the last two episodes made promising steps out of its big brother's shadow, with interesting, well-developed storylines holding together some really memorable gags. I was starting to get really excited about the show, but this week's episode reminded me why it never really managed to endear itself to me during its first two seasons. Stan is by far my least favorite member of the Smith family, but I like him a hell of a lot better when he's not being used solely as a red-blooded caricature. His quest this week to get his atheist friend to believe in God seemed like too much of a set-up for hot-button "issue" gags, which quickly become tiresome. (Look, Stan's holding his male friend's hand! It's funny 'cause conservatives hate gay people, get it?) The secondary storyline, Roger tricking Steve into thinking he's been accepted at Hogwarts, only to accidentally send him off to a crackhouse, just wasn't funny enough to make up for its mean-spiritedness. I don't personally have a problem with the crass, often malicious humor of Family Guy and American Dad, but when it's more mean than funny, it just feels lazy and crude.

And meanwhile, King Of The Hill is still King Of The Hill. Whereas there is a noticeable progression in the tone of both The Simpsons and Family Guy (too early to tell with American Dad), KOTH is so consistent in its tone that you could probably shuffle up all the episodes of all the seasons and it wouldn't feel disjointed. Maybe the first season sticks out a little more, but I think that has more to do with the show's lack of production value at the time than any sort of comedic shift. This episode was a typically good-natured, sweet story, but it had fewer laugh-out-loud moments than I know KOTH is capable of.

Unlike The Simpsons this week, KOTH felt very, well, full. There were three different plots that all intersected naturally, which is something the show does very well. It also incorporated more of the supporting characters, which is something I've been harping on for a couple of weeks now. I thought Bill's stint as the "heat-waver" was a little silly--and pathetic, but that's pretty much what Bill storylines are about--but I think this was the deepest we've ever traveled into Boomhauer's psyche, and it was a pretty melancholy trip. Boomhauer has always been pretty one-note, so it was interesting to see him struggling with growing old and obsolete. Seeing Bobby's disgust and Boomhauer's embarrassment when he failed to out-cool the water-park surfer brahs who were tormenting Bobby, Connie, and Joseph made me genuinely sad. Sure, he came back later with a surfboard to the douchebag's face and reclaimed his position as the ubermensch of Rainy Street, but it's that kind unexpected character exploration that King Of The Hill fans love.

Unfortunately, despite the great storytelling, there wasn't all that much to laugh about this week in KOTH. The show has always been more of a chuckle-fest than a laugh riot, but between Bobby's awkward trauma, Boomhaur's crisis, and Bill's general creepiness, there was little room left for levity. Though Kahn's half-shirt was pretty awesome.

The Simpsons, "I Don't Wanna Know Why The Caged Bird Sings": C
King Of The Hill, "Four Wave Intersection": B
American Dad, "Dope & Faith": C

Stray Observations

-The Ted Nugent cameo on The Simpsons was funny, but seemed completely unnecessary. Did they just have some leftover tape of the Nuge that they needed to find a use for?

-Someone mentioned it in the comments a few weeks ago, but tonight's episode reminded me: Why do Itchy and Scratchy always talk now?

-One of my favorite parts of American Dad is seeing what persona(e) Roger will bust out with each week. That alien must know an amazing wig maker.

-Wow, Bill is even creepier than usual with an angry, peeling sunburn.

-Okay, still no mention of Luanne's pregnancy and still no sight of Lucky. What the hell is going on here?